By Richard Roeder
The Lincoln Stars started the 2nd half of the USHL season right where they left off prior to Christmas, scoring 18 goals in two wins over Green Bay and River City. Lincoln sits atop the West Division standings of the USHL with a 21-9-1 mark. The Stars have a eight point lead over the rest of the league, with Sioux City the only team still able to catch them if games in hand are accounted for. The catch is that Sioux City would have to go 5-0 to claim a slim one-point lead. With seven of the eleven games scheduled in January at the Ice Box, on a Friday or Saturday night (can you say LOUD?), the rest of the league is served notice that the Stars will be a factor in the quest for the Anderson and Clark cups in 2003.
Lincoln looks balanced on offense thus far. They claim the top two scorers in USHL at this point, Ryan Potulny (25-26-51) and David Backes (18-28-46). Captain Danny Irmen has been strong since returning from an injury that sidelined him for much of the first half of the season. Irmen is averaging over a point a game, and projecting his statistics season-to-date would put him slightly below Backes and Potulny, third in the league. John Snowden (17-15-32) currently sits 6th in the league in scoring, and first year Stars Chris Porter (4-13-17) and Mick Berge (7-5-12) have adjusted to USHL play and are coming along nicely. Add in USHL veteran Jeff McFarland (9-6-15), Ben Gordon and Brent Borgen (who will return to Lincoln after finishing up with their high-school seasons), and Lincoln looks very scary on offense to start the second half.
The Stars are no slouch at the blueline either. Ethan Graham (4-19-23, +9) has been particularly effective, balancing steady defensive play with an ability to help the Stars light the lamp. Graham, who is still looking for a scholarship, has been garnering interest with his play of late. He will continue to backbone the defensive corps as Lincoln tries to stay on top. Keith Rodger (+12), although not a scoring threat thus far, still provides a physical presence and an excellent defensive zone work ethic. With Robbie Bina coming back from injury, the Stars have a solid defensive group with no glaring weaknesses.
Lincoln has been solid between the pipes as well. Nate Ziegelmann (11-3-2) and Phillippe Lamoureux (10-6-1) have alternated all season long with great success. Both are in the top five in the USHL goalie standings, hovering around a 2.5 GAA and over a .905 save percentage. Both seem comfortable with splitting playing time and the statistics bear out that it works for both of them. Look for Zieglemann to be courted by several schools as the season progresses.
How will the season turn out for Lincoln? It’s hard to say at this point. You can sense something special brewing in Lincoln. To this point, this team looks like the real deal. Leadership, chemistry, and solid play have the Stars right where they want to be. As Stars fans remember from last year, there is a big difference between being great in January and being the best in March/April. It will come down to who wants it most, as it always does come playoff time in the USHL.